Reynolds, Judge, et al. v. Sims, et al.
Decided on June 15, 1964; 377 US 533


A. Issues Discussed: Equal protection, voting rights

B. Legal Question Presented:

Did the District Court err when it held that the old and new plans for the apportionment of seats in the Alabama Legislature were unconstitutional and when it did not compel reapportionment of the Alabama Senate on a population basis as allegedly required by the Alabama constitution and the Equal Protection Clause of the Federal Constitution?


A. Background:

Three separate appeals from the US District Court for Alabama were merged in this case. In addition to Reynolds v. Sims (Case No.23), the other two cases are Vann v. Baggett (Case No. 27) and McConnell v. Baggett (Case No.41)

Charging that malapportionment of the Alabama Legislature deprived them and others similarly situated of rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Alabama Constitution, voters in several Alabama counties brought suit against various officials having state election duties.

The complaint alleged serious discrimination against voters in counties whose populations had grown proportionately far more than others since the 1900 census which, despite Alabama's constitutional requirements for legislative representation based on population and for decennial reapportionment, formed the basis for the existing legislative apportionment. Pursuant to the 1901 constitution the legislature consisted of 106 representatives and 35 senators for the State's 67 counties and senatorial districts; each county was entitled to at least one representative; each senate district could have only one member; and no county could be divided between two senate districts.

Finding after a hearing that neither of two apportionment plans which the legislature thereafter adopted, to become effective in 1966, would cure the gross inequality and invidious discrimination of the existing representation, which all parties generally conceded violated the Equal Protection Clause, and that the complainants' votes were unconstitutionally debased under all of the three plans at issue, the District Court ordered temporary reapportionment for the 1962 general election by combining features of the two plans adopted by the legislature, and enjoined officials from holding future elections under any of the invalid plans.

The officials appealed, claiming that the District Court erred in holding unconstitutional the existing and proposed reapportionment plans and that a federal court lacks power affirmatively to reapportion a legislature; two groups of complainants also appealed, one claiming error in the District Court's failure to reapportion the Senate according to population, the other claiming error in its failure to reapportion both houses on a population basis.

On appeal the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the District Court.

B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed by Leo Pfeffer, Melvin L. Wulf, Jack Greenberg and Robert B. McKay for the American Jewish Congress et al., and by W. Scott Miller, Jr. and George J. Long for Schmied. President of the Board of Aldermen of Louisville, Kentucky.

Charles Morgan, Jr. argued the cause for appellees in No. 23. With him on the brief for appellees Sims et al. was George Peach Taylor. Jerome A. Cooper filed a brief for appellees Farr et al. Solicitor General Cox, by special leave of Court, argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, urging affirmance. With him on the brief were Bruce J. Terris and Richard W. Schmude.

W. McLean Pitts argued the cause for appellants in No. 23 and for appellees in Nos. 27 and 41. With him on the briefs were Joseph E. Wilkinson, Jr. and Thomas G. Gayle. David J. Vann argued the cause for appellants in No. 27. With him on the brief were Robert S. Vance and C. H. Erskine Smith. John W. McConnell, Jr. argued the cause and filed a brief for appellants in No. 41. Appellee Richmond M. Flowers, Attorney General of Alabama, argued the cause pro se. With him on the brief was Gordon Madison, Assistant Attorney General.


"The seats in both houses of a bicameral legislature must under the Equal Protection Clause be apportioned substantially on a population basis. The District Court correctly held that the existing Alabama apportionment scheme and both of the proposed plans are constitutionally invalid since neither legislative house is or would thereunder be apportioned on a population basis...

Some deviations from a strict equal-population principle are constitutionally permissible in the two houses of a bicameral state legislature, where incident to the effectuation of a rational state policy, so long as the basic standard of equality of population among districts is not significantly departed from... Insuring some voice to political subdivisions in at least one legislative body may, within reason, warrant some deviations from population-based representation in state legislatures.

The District Court properly exercised its judicial power in this case by ordering reapportionment of both houses of the Alabama Legislature for purposes of 1962 elections as a temporary measure by using the best parts of the two proposed plans, each of which it had found, as a whole, invalid, and in retaining jurisdiction while deferring a hearing on the issuance of a final injunction to give the reapportioned legislature an opportunity to act effectively."

The Supreme Court affirmed the District Court's judgment.

Justice Vote: 8 Pro vs. 1 Con

  • Warren, E. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Black, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Douglas, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Goldberg, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • White, B. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Clark, T. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Stewart, P. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • harlan, J. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)

    The ACLU, as attorney of record, urged affirmance of the District Court's Judgment; the Supreme Court affirmed in a 8-1 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.